dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Eugene Should Read More Fiction

August 21st, 2015 · 9 Comments

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Laurel Fisher offered a deceptively simple remedy for all that ails Eugene. The former South Eugene High School English teacher died last week, leaving others to make her arguments for her. She believed we should all read more fiction. More about that in a moment.

I never knew Laurel when she was teaching, but I have no doubt she was demanding and energetic, a raucous resource for a generation of Eugeneans. I knew her only after she had slowed down a tad — but not much more than that — in her retirement years. She was the first I knew to buy Volkswagen’s New Beetle. It was bright yellow.

We sat across from each other for years on the program committee for the City Club of Eugene. Whenever I invited anyone to join that group, I usually warned them not to think of it as a committee meeting. If they came in thinking of it as a sporting event, then the rapid responses and determined jousting made a lot more sense.

Even when Laurel and I agreed on an issue, we’d still poke and jab at each other’s points, devoted together to sharpening whatever debate we hoped the topic would invite. It was all in good fun, but it was also good work. Many interesting programs — and friendships — came from that committee’s work.

Laurel championed the arts wherever her voice was needed. She had a way of scolding those who wouldn’t follow her devotion, insisting that you — only you! — could make the difference in this particular case. I doubt even a few ever mustered any resentment over her determination, because she always practiced whatever it was she was preaching.

In a 2006 interview with arts reporter Bob Keefer, she made the difficult but important argument that arts education was losing ground because we were trying to convince one another it was all somehow useful. She disagreed, arguing that art’s value is intrinsic.

“We have to stop trying to make the arts have extrinsic value,” she told Keefer. “Stop trying to sell the idea that if you take a music course you can grow up and be a trombonist in the orchestra. Or if you take an oil painting class you can make Christmas gifts for your family. Or you can teach oil painting as a career.”

And then came her money shot: “What’s important is the transformation inside you that art can offer.”

Laurel believed in the power of truth, but she also understood how easily it hides in the detritus of everyday life. Paintings often give viewers more clarity than photographs can, because of what the painter can leave out. Likewise with fiction. A non-fiction writer has to be true only to the writing itself.

You may never be so driven as Ahab was to defeat the whale, but after you’ve read “Moby Dick,” you understand obsession and what it can do to people — better than life itself will usually teach you. Ahab’s story tells the truth, even it never really happened.

Life, on the other hand, is a mottled mess of grays. Lines are seldom straight, most beginnings are never completed, whatever sense we make of things is often drowned out by the nonsense surrounding it. And us.

If we read more fiction, we might notice the nonsense that clutters our discourse. After we cherish an idealized painting of south Willamette Street, we might see again how the telephone poles crowd the curbs and power lines criss-cross the sky. We filter those messy details out of our minds, but the clutter itself somehow remains.

Laurel embraced that cluttered reality. She was always the type to peer into shop windows to see what might be opening soon or happening inside. She modeled and taught engagement — believing it necessary, but not sufficient.

The life of a city, especially one as engaged as ours, requires a life of the mind. And the life of the mind, at certain junctures, requires more clarity than our lives being lived usually affords.

So it’s good and healthy sometimes to curl up with stories that are less busy — but not less true — than our own.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com

→ 9 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Media · Simple · You-gene

Eugene Must Seek Greatness of Spirit First

August 14th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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Eugene tried on a slogan for itself not very long ago: the greatest city for the arts and outdoors. It didn’t quite stick, except in the craw — especially the word “greatest.” We weren’t even sure how we felt about calling ourselves a city, but it was meant to be aspirational. If Eugene’s then-Cultural Services director Robb Hankins had wanted to be descriptive, he would have proposed “a pretty good community for the arts and outdoors.”

The last part fit when he proposed it. The “city” part fits much better now than it did even a decade ago. But greatness still eludes us, at least when we look in the mirror. Whether Eugene finds a great spirit within itself will matter greatly in 100 years, so it warrants our attention today.

Eugene is busy right now settling its Urban Growth Boundary for the next 20 years. The plan includes urban reserves to give us room for the next 50 years. Eugene’s new city hall designs should be looking ahead 100 years. Choices being made today, this week, this year will impact how people talk about this place a century from now.

This much we know. The southern Willamette Valley will house and feed many more people than it does today. They could be drawn by food security, a temperate climate, industrial innovation, or cultural opportunities. If the Big One happens, the Fern Ridge Reservoir could become our new oceanfront.

We’re shaping and preparing that future today. How close to the center of that future does Eugene intend to be? Would our region rather come to resemble Chicagoland or the Bay Area?

I grew up northwest of Chicago. When people ask me where I’m from, I say Chicago, because Hoffman Estates would mean nothing to them. No one ever debated that Chicago was the nearest meaningful place to us. Residents refer to the greater metropolitan Chicago area as “Chicagoland.” The center was never in doubt.

Contrast that with San Francisco, where Oakland and San Jose preferred not to be subsumed. The Bay Area is today defined more by bridges between places than by any of the places themselves.

Those choices have real consequences. The Bay Area has dozens of different transit agencies, making even a direct commute a nightmare of transfers. Chicagoland has three transit agencies. The same could be said for wastewater treatment, road maintenance, school funding, and on and on. Having a strong and vibrant center allows its surroundings to cohere.

Eugene can’t claim that center for itself. Creswell residents won’t introduce themselves to faraway friends as being “from Eugene” if they don’t like how that sounds. Being big matters less than being great.

It must be said, greatness in this context cannot be claimed; only bestowed. Eugene and its leaders must learn magnanimity. If we don’t develop a “great spirit” of generosity and respect, Eugene will grow to become nothing more than the tallest of the seven dwarfs.

Where do we find that greatness? First, there are certain attitudes to be dug up from their roots. We know bigger isn’t always better, but we’re not often enough the first to say so. It should sound like this:

“We charge for our grocery bags; you don’t. We don’t allow food trucks to do business on our streets; you do. We can learn from each other on a hundred different issues. Because we’re in this valley together.”

The greatness must be inside before it can be seen outside. A very good first step came 20 years ago when Eugene gave control of Glenwood to Springfield. The area’s future looks bright today, thanks to Springfield’s effort.

That gift to Springfield — there was money involved, but it was a pittance — made sense geographically and culturally, but probably not economically. Still, it felt to Mayor Ruth Bascom, City Manager Mike Gleason, and the City Council like it was the right thing to do. When you have a great spirit, that’s often enough.

Eugene will continue to build buildings. If we don’t also build the community’s — the city’s — character and spirit, they won’t matter.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Civic · Deep · Psycho · Urban Design · You-gene

Bottle Returns Can Help Our Homeless

August 7th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Oregon is losing its love for bottle returns, but Lane County can lead the way to something better. Collecting cans for extra money has supported the homeless for decades. Isn’t it time we formalized that arrangement, saving ourselves some inconvenience along the way?

Oregon’s Bottle Bill led the nation in 1971, charging a nickel for every recyclable, then paying it back when returned. Oregonians quickly adopted the logic: “You can buy this soda, but you’re only renting its container.”

Nine other states have followed our lead. Almost every state now promotes recycling, whether they charge a deposit or not. Some states now have higher recycling rates than Oregon. In fact, Oregon’s redemption rate has fallen in the last year to a paltry 68 percent. I think I know why.

The Oregon Grocers Association has long sought to relieve its members of the task of collecting bottles and cans. Paying back those nickels was never cost-effective. Automation was the quick fix, but grocery store staff still had to service the machines when bins filled or chutes jammed.

In 2011, the Oregon Legislature approved regional redemption centers. A dozen BootleDrop locations have opened across the state, administered by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative. Only one has opened so far in Lane County (in Eugene on West Broadway, near Garfield Street), but more are on the way.

BottleDrop openings allow member grocers within 3.5 miles to limit the returns they accept at their stores. Many have simply closed their redemption rooms completely, hoping their customers will collect their nickels elsewhere.

Redeeming bottle deposits was never an enjoyable experience, but BottleDrop has made it much worse. Lines are long, giving you plenty of time to contemplate how else you could be spending your time. They do offer a quick drop service, but there’s a fee per bag, you can’t verify the results, and it’s still an extra stop.

Ask any dry cleaner how Americans respond when they have to make just one more stop when they’re out running errands. They find other ways.

If you get up very early on trash pick-up day, you can see for yourself what that other way looks like. Down-and-out entrepreneurs troll the streets, often with flashlights and makeshift carts, looking for nickel-worthy containers. Residents are happy to be relieved of the responsibility, especially when looking the other way points toward their pillow.

If your neighborhood hasn’t yet attracted these intrepid collectors, it won’t be long. Deposits will double to a dime in 2017 and the program will expand significantly to cover almost all bottles in 2018. This informal system seems to work better for many people than the one built by the state’s leaders. They’re not missing the spare change that redeeming them represent.

We can build out that system to help our most vulnerable residents, reclaiming our position as civic innovators.

Remember those barn-red newspaper recycling boxes that used to be on every street corner, supporting the Eugene Mission? Redemption rates for newsprint plummeted, so the Mission abandoned the program a few years ago, but we can recycle their blueprint for do-goodery.

Bottles and cans are much more valuable than used newspapers, so unattended drop spots won’t work. So how about this? Dari-Mart has nearly 50 locations, stretching north, south and east of its Junction City headquarters. They’d love to offer you a new reason to come inside one of their corner markets, if only out of neighborliness.

If each store became a secure drop site for donated bottles and cans, I’m sure St. Vincent dePaul or another social service agency could use the deposits to subsidize their programs for the homeless. Eugene and other cities could find ways to promote and support the effort.

Everybody wins in this scenario. Dari-Mart gets a steady stream of people stopping in. Those who serve the area’s homeless get an additional funding source. And you don’t have to stand in line to get your nickels back.

It’s not exactly what the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative and state legislators had in mind. It’s better.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Simple · Upper-Left-Edge

Frip Away the Summer Heat

July 31st, 2015 · 4 Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • So is it settled? Is Eugene Celebration dead? Both its website and Facebook page still instruct us to “stay tuned” and “check back” for 2015 details.
  • Every place seems to be getting some other place’s weather this summer. This summer’s heat has shifted from a condition to be passively endured to an assault we must actively resist.
  • Seven thirty is the new 8 PM.
  • Bottom line: Modern life requires more comfort than comfort food can provide.
  • If you can’t be on time, at least be worth the wait.
  • Summer is peak season for boding. Almost nothing really happens but lots of things bode.
  • Should I look both ways before crossing a one-way street?
  • Are there still settlers anywhere on earth? Or has every place now been settled?
  • I love waterfront architecture because you can’t quite decide which is the front door.
  • Many of us track our days not with appointment calendars, but with pill cases.
  • The number to watch in the global warming trend is not the big one. Afternoon heat matters less than the lack of overnight cooling. When the low temperature for each day rises, heat is building its own momentum.
  • I’d rather deepen my days than lengthen them — unless I can do both.
  • Am I the only one who can’t find anything to like about Haggen’s grocery store takeovers?
  • The worst personal hellscape offers us some pleasure, so we feel no urge to leave it.
  • I’m folding more things into thirds — I sympathize with the half-nots.
  • Individual-sized watermelons are hurting America. Every day brings us one less opportunity to share with our family, friends and neighbors.
  • We should have suspected something when every website’s response button was labeled “submit.”
  • Democracy is engineering its own demise. Efficiency was never its strong suit.
  • Boston has withdrawn its bid for the Olympics. Hey, Vin! Eugene 2024?
  • Take a “No Destination Road Trip.” Just pick a direction and go. You might discover that the arriving mattered less than the departing.
  • President Obama’s stirring eulogy in South Carolina gave us a glimpse of what an amazing former president he might become.
  • We’d understand the Middle East better if we considered all the underlying factions separately: religious, ethnic, linguistic, political, economic, tribal and generational.
  • Or, there’s this. Social upheaval can be predicted best by measuring the percentage of young single males in the population.
  • Which protests do you think business tycoons fear more: “Fight for $15” or “Occupy Wall Street”?
  • Success is easily confused with purpose, like chocolate is confused with fudge. One ingredient — no matter how necessary — cannot replace the recipe itself.
  • One reason young people aren’t voting may be that they’re paying attention. Their votes often won’t change the outcome, so this habit of citizenship doesn’t develop.
  • What other social trends have accompanied the wane of the male undershirt?
  • Americans like hiring “fresh faces” to inhabit the White House. (Only George H.W. Bush was familiar to all Americans, since Nixon.) But they blanch when confronted with the lifetimes of experience represented by military brass.
  • We say we like governors because of their executive experience. It’s more likely that citizens in 49 states see a face with which they are not yet bored.
  • Why can’t extension cords spool neatly? New insulating materials will offer more flexibility. It sure would tidy up my living room.
  • I thought class was defined best by income, but I was wrong. Divide income by effort; the higher the quotient, the higher the class.
  • Policy makers must learn that people won’t naturally care about their public outreach processes until after it’s too late. Process is boring. Product has drama. Outreach must be tailored for how much people will care — not how much they do care.
  • As multi-national companies grow in wealth and influence, loyalties will be tested. Will people align themselves first as citizens or customers?
  • I hope that varnisher never darkens my door again.
  • Give a man a fish and he’ll need tartar sauce. But teach a man to fish, and he’ll need a pole and a reel, a boat, hip boots, lures, a tackle box, a depth-finder, a silly hat … And a bumper sticker that says, “A bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work.”

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Grins · Quips

When the Fix Went In

July 24th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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My first newsroom job was working the traffic desk at Chicago’s NBC television affiliate, three dozen years ago. I answered phones and sorted mail. My seat was at the bottom of a cramped horseshoe, with editors at keyboards flanking both sides. It was the best seat in the house.

Management had recently recruited a young financial reporter. Terry Savage gave up her place on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor to reach a television audience. She’s since written several books. Her consumer advice is featured in the Sunday business section of this and hundreds of other newspapers.

I caught up with Terry recently to compare our memories of a particular story she did and the deluge of reader response that followed.

It was 1979. America was enduring double-digit inflation. Passbook customers were earning a measly five percent interest on their savings. (Savings-and-Loans were allowed to offer a half percent better. Regulators ruled.)

Terry remembers the tease tag to this day, played between commercials to keep television viewers seated. (There were no remotes back then.) “Earn ten percent interest on your checking account. Stay tuned for the news.”

Over a cup of coffee, she filled in the details for me. “Treasury notes were trading at 12 percent or around that, so paying 10 percent wasn’t really that generous, but regular ‘bungalow people’ didn’t have access to it. They had money, but nowhere to put it. I made that connection for people.”

She offered to send a list of companies offering free checking for accounts with a minimum balance, plus an interest rate that was double what banks could offer. Viewers had only to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. (Another blast from the past.)

I saw the mail flood in. Terry was still “the new kid on the block.” When she asked for help to stuff those envelopes, she found no takers in the newsroom. I agreed to take a late train home and help her. She bought pizza.

Only this spring did I learn this little tidbit: “Management didn’t like being surprised, so they made me pay for the photocopies out of my own pocket,” Terry laughed. “And photocopies weren’t cheap back then!”

I tell this story now because that moment of licking envelopes marked an important shift in American and world economics.

She gave “bungalow people” access to money market mutual funds, which were relatively new at the time. Most offered a limited number of checks each month to make withdrawals at any time with no penalty.

It proved wildly popular. My late return from Chicago that night was proof of that.

Ordinary investors soon found they had access to the same companies’ “no-load” (no-commission) mutual funds — those not sold by brokers, who at the time earned an 8% up front commission! Suddenly, ordinary people had access to the stock market at low cost.

Until this shift occurred, there were two savings economies. People with plenty of money, sophistication, and spare time invested in the stock market. But regular people steered clear, for several reasons. The additional risk may have been off-putting, but mostly the barrier to entry was too high. They needed too much money to get in and it cost too much money to make trades. Remember, this was decades before the advent of discount brokerage firms.

And it all started with money market mutual funds, which offered a significantly higher rate of return than banks, and free checking, to boot. People loved it, leaving passbook savings behind. Retirement funds followed and soon the distinction between how people saved their money collapsed.

Now there is only one savings economy and corporations are central to it. Whether you’re a schoolteacher with a union-managed retirement plan or a young family saving for your children’s college expenses, you can’t afford to see the businesses around you do anything but succeed and expand.

We pretend that our economy pits the 99 percent against those who live at the top, but the truth is they bought our loyalty to their interests decades ago.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · deekay · Deep

Shame, Blame and Guilt

July 10th, 2015 · 12 Comments

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We don’t know if it was a gaggle of pre-teen boys who started the fire that brought down Eugene’s Civic Stadium. The investigation into the tragedy is continuing. The court system will take the issue from there and these things take time. We rely on defined procedures to provide the answers we so urgently desire.

What we do know right now is that each of us did things when we were that age that can still curl our hair when we remember them. Many of us have memories from those days that we’re hesitant to share with anyone. I know I do. No statute of limitations can protect our inner selves from the memory of our adolescent mistakes.

My son and his neighbor friend played with matches when they were 12. The dry California summer could have brought consequences much worse than they received. I hit puberty during the brief streaking craze of the 1970s and that’s all I’m going to say about that. None of us reach adulthood unscathed by scandal.

We call them “youthful indiscretions,” but I think that whitewashing shows that we’ve over-learned the lesson. The polite veneer we give those bad choices would be less necessary if we all admitted our wrongdoings, that we wish we could undo them, and that we regret the consequences they brought on others.

It feels less like a club when we learn that everyone is a member.

And so, right now, we can discuss amongst our adult selves the regrettable past that lurks in each of us. We can parse for our own good the difference between blame, shame and guilt.

We gather the three together during times of trauma, believing certainty will give us a comfort that comes with finality. Anyone with an inner life eventually learns it doesn’t work that way. Call it grief, or post-traumatic stress, or a ghost, if you like — our memories shape our identity and our identity shapes our actions. We’re always coping with the past and the present at once.

The best we can do is take a breath, slow down our reaction, tease the factors apart, and keep a watchful eye.

Guilt in this instance will be determined by our purposely ponderous system. If there was a ringleader, that will come clear. If others helped, or if some tried to resist, we’ll learn those details in time. Special accommodations will be considered if youth is a factor. Consequences will be meted out according to the rules we’ve designed for ourselves.

Shame, on the other hand, is not so prescribed. Shame is a social construct — it’s left to us to determine who will be shunned and who will be helped. After a 50-year-long hiatus, shame is making a comeback on the public policy stage. Scolding the people who make bad choices is regaining popularity, despite everything we’ve learned about how we’re co-evolving one another’s identities.

Societal shame and shunning must be reserved for only the most extreme circumstances. Tearing the fabric of human connectedness is the harshest penalty — capital punishment for the social self.

Guilt must always be determined. Shame should almost never be used. And between those bumpers lies responsibility. Here we all have a role to play.

A healthy society spreads responsibility widely. If we look out for one another, we’re less likely to look down on anyone. Any of us can choose to share the burden of blame. The fence could have been taller. Our debate could have been shorter.

The stadium fire was not the first consequence. A criminal trial won’t be the last. Fortunately in this case, no human harm must be weighed against the choices that were made.

Children don’t naturally anticipate the consequences of all their actions. Parents, teachers, neighbors and friends all help fill in those blanks. If there were children involved in this public tragedy, they’ll continue to grow and learn about themselves and the world.

Children are working out how they’ll fit into the world we already inhabit. Every one of them needs our help. We can’t let that structure be burned down too.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ 12 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Chamber · Civic · Deep · Psycho · You-gene

Fireworks Flight Gives Great Overview

July 9th, 2015 · 4 Comments

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I may have one of the oddest hobbies around. For the last few years, I have attempted to watch July 4th fireworks from a window seat of a commercial flight. It requires plenty of planning, certain lifestyle sacrifices, and more than a little bit of luck.

My first attempt failed because clouds curtained off any show from above. Last year, my flight landed too early. But last Saturday night was nearly perfect in execution. Although the exercise required nothing more strenuous than craning my neck, I felt deep satisfaction from having executed each step of my arduous plan.

Municipal firework displays usually begin around 9 p.m. and finish no later than 10. These times can vary depending on a town’s proximity to a time-zone boundary. Unlike so many things in modern life, the clock time matters less than the sky time. The summer sun sets in Toledo, Ohio, 35 minutes later than in Washington, DC., so fireworks begin later as you travel west within each time zone.

The first task is to find a flight that will take you over populated areas just after dark. You want a flight heading due west. Airliners travel around 500 miles per hour. Time zones across our latitudinal swath of the globe are roughly 750 miles across, so traveling west will slow the passage of clock time.

Finding a westbound flight that will be in the air at the right time wouldn’t have been too difficult, but I insisted on flying between two cities where I wanted to be in July — Baltimore and Chicago. The Baltimore airport was virtually empty last Saturday night. Dusk on July 4 is like Christmas morning. Wherever you were going, that’s the time when you hope you will already be there.

I booked my flight. I chose my window seat, not above the wing, on the right side of the plane, looking north. The next three variables were outside my control, so all I could do was hope.

If the flight was delayed for any reason, that could foil my plan. A child or a nervous talker in the seat beside me could force me to choose between my hobby and their attention. And then there was the biggest variable of all — weather. All three broke in my favor. The flight got out on time, the seat beside me was vacant, and the afternoon storm was blowing out to sea behind us as we were lifting off.

I counted about 150 different fireworks displays during our 90 minutes of flight, not including the block-by-block ruckus in South Bend, Indiana, as we made our approach into Chicago. South Bend, where fireworks are legal, looked like colored popcorn under glass from where I was sitting. Then everything went dark for a minute or two as we crossed the southern edge of Lake Michigan before Chicago presented my own private finale.

In case you’re tempted to take up this hobby, I should warn you that the displays themselves are not very impressive from an airliner’s cruising altitude. If you stand up straight, each display appears roughly the size of one of your toe nails — if they made polish that bursts and glows.

Gazing down over Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Toledo and towns in between, I marveled how each little village along the way was celebrating for themselves what the day means to them. None was necessarily aware of what others were doing, nor would it matter if they were. Like God answering prayers or Google performing searches, each expression was its own. But from above, the parts gathered into a surprisingly satisfying whole.

It certainly helped that it was a Saturday night, with few of the earthbound petitioners worried about the next morning. Police departments have to be careful not to show too heavy a hand these days, so the citizen displays may have been a bit more exuberant than in recent years.

An improving economy here and slowing growth in China gave Americans more bang for their buck — more work, more firework. Whatever their specific reasons, Americans felt like celebrating. Even from 30 thousand feet above, it showed.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 4 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Civic · deekay · Deep · Small World

Supreme Court Prefers Self-Governance

July 3rd, 2015 · 5 Comments

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As the Supreme Court wrapped up its season, the swings and the misses behind the final scores can get lost behind the headlines. Chief Justice John Roberts continued his fierce protection of the institution he’s been charge to lead.

In his dissent of the majority’s ruling to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Roberts wrote: “If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

He’s almost right. “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Same with “all men are created equal.” The Constitution is a mechanism by which we hope to attain our Declared and Independent ideals.

What Roberts may have meant, if his drafting was inartful, was that this ruling and others like it should invoke no celebration for self-governance. If the Supreme Court’s role is to call strikes and balls, Roberts may rightly bemoan the electorate’s modern refusal to swing the bat.

Roberts would have preferred that states settle their own scores with citizens seeking to marry. In another dissent issued the next day, he rehearsed how the system is supposed to work: “The [17th] Amendment resulted from an arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States. What chumps! Didn’t they realize that all they had to do was interpret the constitutional term ‘the Legislature’ to mean ‘the people’? The Court today performs just such a magic trick with the Elections Clause.”

And yet, two days earlier, he saved Obamacare by using the same magic trick by interpreting the phrase “established by the state” to mean “established by the state or the federal government.” Roberts rightly scolded Congress that the Affordable Care Act offers “more than a few examples of inartful drafting.”

Congress could have remedied the problem by simply amending the bill, but they refused. They could have bowed to public opinion (as they and then-President Clinton did just a few years ago) and drafted a New Defense of Marriage Act to right the wrong of marriage inequality, but they didn’t. The bat rested on the shoulder.

In both cases, Congress left the legislating to the Supreme Court, which is what Roberts insists we should not be celebrating. And again, he’s right. Congress is broken and self-governance is imperiled. The president pledges to improve people’s lives with his phone and his pen. The Supremes willingly inject common sense to inartful legislative prose. The people are not consulted, much less represented.

How did 435 representatives become so unrepresentative? In a word, gerrymandering.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, gerrymandering is the modern version of ballot stuffing, but it’s perfectly legal because the “stuffing” now includes each vote’s voter. Stuffing your ballot boxes is not legal, but stuffing your district with your preferred voters is.

Arizona voters decided they’d had enough of that, so they drafted and passed a referendum that created an Independent Redistricting Commission. The lawmakers sued, citing the Constitution’s words, but they lost.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion, insisting that the referendum was a legitimate legislative tool. When the people legislate for themselves, they are a legislature. Arizona voters prevailed without “the arduous, decades-long campaign” that Roberts would have preferred, but the system cannot fix itself when the system is what’s broken.

If Roberts chooses to celebrate the Constitution, he may find comfort in its preamble. His court can play a significant role to “ensure domestic tranquility.” States will follow Arizona with similar election reforms. People can marry whomever they choose. Those who are sick will get affordable care.

The mechanics of governance may not have worked as well as Roberts would have liked, but spirit of the Constitution prevailed. “We the people” are forming a more perfect union.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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Saving Civic’s Spirit

July 3rd, 2015 · 7 Comments

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I come to bury Civic, not to raze it. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

The sooner we put this week’s devastating fire behind us, the faster we’ll rekindle the pride and collective momentum that its last days portrayed.

Civic’s story focuses naturally on its origin and lifespan. Any of us would be satisfied if we touched as many lives in our 77 years. We may still have among us a few of those citizens who voted to tax themselves in May 1938 to pay off the structure’s outstanding liens. Some of the timber families who donated the materials have never left. Together, they embodied then the single-name we gave for its result: “Civic.”

The past few months have matched those glorious beginnings. Again, the city government stepped up, issued a clarion call for its citizens and business owners to do something civic by doing something for Civic. The call was answered, against all probability. We’re sometimes a town that doesn’t care about the odds. Maybe we’re just not that good at math, or maybe we believe in our core that our passions will carry the day.

It doesn’t much matter what the root of this peculiarity is — it’s deep inside us and we recognize it. It’s the good that’s in our bones.

“It’s like a lot of good things that happen in communities,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said in early April. “It takes real­ly dedicated people who put in a lot of time and use their resources and contacts to try and make things move.” She may have said “communities,” but I believe she meant “this community.”

If we’re to stay true to our best selves expressed in Civic in May 1938 and again in April 2015, we must move forward with the same collective resolve. The next few months must match the last few.

The forces that dedicated themselves to saving Civic envisioned sports and recreation continuing on the site. Soccer is part of the vision, as is a field house for Kidsports. We must honor the vision and dedication of those people. (Sorry, Fred Meyer.) We want only one thing more — whatever we call what rises there, it should represent what we consider “civic.”

Sadly, we now have a leveled playing field — options that may not have seemed feasible before might make more sense now. We have an opportunity here and now to survey our situation and ask again some questions that may be answered differently now.

Eugene just hosted the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. University of Oregon won both the men’s and women’s NCAA Track and Field Championships just a few weeks ago. Phil Knight announced he’s planning to step down as Chairman of the Board for Nike. Vin Lananna unveiled plans for an eight-city professional track and field league. Michael Schill has arrived on campus amid hopes that he can lead the University of Oregon’s $2-billion capital campaign as its 18th president.

Taking all those bits of news together, here’s a question I find myself asking: Is now the time, and is 2077 Willamette Street the place, to build an indoor track and field complex? UO became a football powerhouse only after building the Moshofsky Center in 1997, giving athletes and coaches an indoor training facility.

A similar gift to the track and field program may fit this time and place perfectly.

Schill knows that fundraising relies on a lead gift — one that creates a buzz for the whole campaign. Creating a cousin for Hayward Field and a year-round Tracktown USA might do exactly that.

It must also accommodate soccer and Kidsports, and not look from the street like a misplaced Costco. It must excite both university donors and neighborhood leaders. It must become the hub of activity envisioned by the Eugene Civic Alliance. It must stand as a monument of collaboration between the college and the town — in this college town.

It must embody the good that is now interred with the bones of what was — and must become again — our beloved Civic.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs here.

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Quiet Desperation Getting Less Quiet and More Desperate

June 26th, 2015 · 1 Comment

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Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden in 1854: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Lately that desperation has become less quiet. Places and names tell the whole story, over and over again.

Ferguson, Missouri: Michael Brown. Staten Island, New York: Eric Garner. North Charleston, South Carolina: Walter Scott. Baltimore, Maryland: Freddie Gray.

And now Eugene, Oregon: Brian Babb.

Babb differs from the others in two ways that shouldn’t be important, but are. First, he had a gun. Second, he’s white.

Babb fired a shot into the floor of his room almost an hour before police arrived. He told his therapist he wanted “to see how it sounded.” He drew his gun again when confronted by police, prompting a fatal bullet in response.

If only one detail had differed, a thousand other details would then be changed, followed by a thousand more and another thousand after that. Life would have gone on. Instead, there’s an end, but only for him. Others must go on, hoping to find the tiniest shred of sense in what remains. Quiet desperation becomes contagious.

Our nation seems to go through spates of tragedies that echo each other, amplifying our collective pain. Shootings go from schools to shopping centers to movie theaters. Epidemics spread from ebola in Brooklyn and New Hampshire to measles at Disneyland.

The latest pattern shows the troubled and defenseless, losing their lives to police who are trying to maintain order. With each successive instance, the pressure mounts for charges to be filed against the police, as if that will somehow even the ledger.

It’s horrifically sad that retribution so often equates with justice. People exult in bloodlusty victory when police are charged with criminal intent, as if two lives shortened is somehow better than one. Often it’s the people closest to the victim who are the ones begging protesters to settle themselves down.

This is not an unimportant detail.

Those who knew the victim cannot readily embrace the cause. The grief about what happened comes first.

Never confuse the map with the territory. Only they have actually been to the place that others describe so well. If only we could listen first to those who have earned the right to speak, but our media are less discriminating or follow different rules than you and me.

They talk as if directly to us. They speak as if they knew the man. Neither is true, but our mental filters can’t quite keep up with what we already know. Like 1960s housewives afraid to offend the Fuller Brush salesman at the door — we let them in, knowing that we shouldn’t.

The desperation drama blares before us. The places and names change, but the story stays the same. Police seek to maintain order. Operation fails. R.I.P., the disaffected and disempowered. If only things were different.

African Americans have a special burden. For a century and a half, we’ve conflated race and class, performing an emotional shell game, hiding the pea under the complaint not given. If race is the obstacle, then it would go away with economic improvement. If poverty is the root, well, there are plenty of poor whites who don’t take to the streets. Each solution is designed to mismatch the problem.

But now the President and First Lady have self-identified as Black, even if it’s only literally three-quarters true. Class doesn’t reach any higher than the White House, so the desperation has a new clarity. The ache has become a pierce — an entirely different kind of pain.

On the other side of the scrimmage, police must keep order against two adversaries in unwitting cahoots. The disaffected are actively opposing with rocks held by nothing-to-lose fists, while the unenthused are holding their phones, wishing only for peace and quiet — but mostly quiet — so they can finish their business at hand.

Strategic asymmetry has been studied only in warfare, so it’s off to war they go, in armored vehicles, using military formations, dressed in battle fatigues. It looks like war.

Another Thoreau adage from Walden comes to mind: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

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